Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Omnibus Appropriations Bill First Step on Cuba

The Havana Note

The House debate on the Omnibus Appropriations bill has begun on or TV (and can be viewed later in its archive).

The bill contains language on Cuba with several positive aspects that was inserted by Representative Serrano with the assistance of Representative Castor. It should be considered a significant forward step that shows how the majority can use the rules to its favor and is upsetting to the hard liners in Florida. Passage helps build momentum for stronger action by the Obama administration and Congress.

It will be interesting regarding prospects for legislation to end all travel restrictions to see whether Sen Martinez can use Senate rules to block the bill, Sen. Menendez gets involved and Sen Reid accommodates him. (See Miami Herald story and on line poll here.)

However if the legislation survives intact, it is only a partial victory. The section on Cuban American travel is non-enforcement language. It does not suspend or reverse the law. Oddly travel for agricultural sales receives a general license but not family or other non-tourist travel. OFAC's politically distorted role in the Bush Administration is also a target.

[Text of Cuba language can be seen here.]

Passage will effectively enable at least annual Cuban American travel for the balance of the fiscal year. However, it does not remove from President Obama the responsibility to use his authority to enable general licenses for all twelve categories of non-tourist people to people travel, including Cuban American, educational, religious, humanitarian, cultural, sports and "support for the Cuban people".

The comment page of the Office of Public Liaison can be used to put all non-tourist travel on the agenda of the interagency review of Cuba policy through this link.

The urgency and importance of making your voice heard to President Obama is reflected in a report yesterday from our friend and colleague in Miami Silvia Wilhelm:

"Senator Menendez was on Miami TV right now very positive that the only thing the administration is going to allow is a roll back to the Clinton era family travel and that absolutely NOTHING else is going to move and that if it came down to listening to Lugar or him and others in the community, Obamawould listen to him and others."

Posted by John McAuliff on February 25, 2009 12:28 PM


JG: I certainly hope that Obama does not listen to Robert Menendez. He is in bed with the Miami ultra right-wingers and will sabotage any reform of our failed travel to Cuba policies. The president should listen to Representative Bill DeLaHunt, and support and get behind H.R. 874, The Freedom to Travel To Cuba Act. Make sure that you leave a polite comment for President Obama on the link to the Office of Public Liaison.

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